The gospel is a partial gospel in so far as it is characterized by evangelism and personal piety alone. In terms of Race, this half-gospel has played a role in the indifference of some Christians toward the issue of racism. Peter Goodwin Heltzel writes,
Sin was seen primarily as an individual state of immorality, taking precedence over social disorder. Racism was viewed as a problem of the human heart and human relationships, not an institutional social sin. The church was seen as a community or regenerate individuals called to social witness but without a clear theology of public engagement to direct them (Jesus and Justice: Evangelicals, Race, and American Politics, 87).
Racism is not merely a matter of personal acquaintance; it is a matter of social institutions--both their structures and practices. Unfortunately, many religious institutions are structured around normative whiteness (even normative masculine whiteness). A familiar example of this problem is shown in the admission policies of Bob Jones University, which denied admission to African Americans from its founding in 1926 until 1971. BJU banned interracial dating, which continues to play out under the rublic of normative whiteness. And what effect does this have on non-white students at the university?
While most Christians think such practices are wrong, few continue to speak out against institutional racism. In fact, when the IRS tried to refuse BJU of its tax-exempt status, many Christians (conservative, moderate, evangelical) defended the rights of BJU against governmental interference. What lies behind the surface issue of church/state relations is the fact that BJU operated under distrust and fear of non-whites. It reinforced white racism and shared the support of many Christians.
The whole gospel involves both the personal and the public. The Christian life is (or should be) one marked by a concern for social justice. We are commanded to further the case of justice and defend the dignity of human persons. We are not asked to defend any particular institution, even a religious one. By defending BJU, Christians chose to defend the "rights" of an institution rather than protect the dignity of individuals--those oppressed persons who were denied access.
Heltzel suggests that the "Jewish flesh of Jesus" is the cite at which reconciliation can occur. "[Dr. Martin Luther] King's Christology," according to Heltzel, "emphasizes Jesus as a redemptive sufferer who suffers with the oppressed and as a prophet who challenges sin both in the human heart and in social structure" (63). Jesus' "dark" human flesh, with its brokenness, scars, and blood, suffers and, at the same time, unites the oppressor with the oppressed. Those who are oppressed can draw on their relationship to the suffering of Jesus. The oppressors become humbled and see themselves in his flesh, which is both condemned and redeemed.